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Place-Based Agricultural Products: Linking Farmers, Communities, and Consumers in North Carolina

Investigators
Bowen, Sarah
Institutions
North Carolina State University
Start date
2008
End date
2013
Objective
  1. Catalogue and analyze the place-based objectives that have already implemented in North Carolina, focusing on their strengths, weaknesses, and possibilities for further improvement.
  2. Identify possibilities for the protection and promotion of various types of North Carolina "food and drink heritage."
  3. Theorize how notions of "heritage" and "terroir" (the link between the biophysical properties of particular territories and the tastes/flavors present in agricultural products) can be applied to a United States context.
Outputs:
  • A list and detailed descriptions of existing place-based food systems in North Carolina
  • Identification of the factors that contribute to successful place-based food systems in North Carolina and the major constraints to the success of these initiatives
  • A map documenting North Carolina food cultures and foodways - will be created through a participatory process with diverse stakeholders and will help to identify potential regional foods and drinks that could benefit from protection and institutional support
  • Case studies of two or three regional products with market and rural development potential
  • Refereed journal articles on notions of heritage and terroir as applied to North Carolina food systems
More information
NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Today, producers and consumers find themselves at the crossroads of two dominant and competing trends in the agro-food system. On one hand, the modern food system is characterized by increased demand for processed and packaged foods and the concentration and centralization of capital. On the other hand, food safety concerns and consumer mistrust have given added salience to transparency and quality in agricultural production practices. As a direct result of this "quality turn" in consumer preferences, local food initiatives have gained impressive cultural and economic importance in recent years. The emergence of these new markets offers an important opportunity for North Carolina farmers. Farm employment and the number of farms continue to decrease in North Carolina. There is a clear need for the development of value-added products that could help stimulate the local economies of the rural, predominantly agricultural counties of North Carolina. Both in North Carolina specifically and in the United States more generally, a variety of different quality and/or local food initiatives have developed over the past twenty years, including farmers' markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and "buy local" movements. These initiatives are an important means of linking producers and consumers. However, producers and policymakers in the United States have largely ignored another important tool: place-based labels for agricultural products, or geographical indications. Geographical indications (GIs) are place-based names that convey the geographical origin, as well as the cultural and historical identity, of an agricultural product. Examples include Champagne, Roquefort cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, Darjeeling tea, and Colombian coffee. Proponents argue that GIs have the ability to protect local (food) cultures, offer a stronger quality guarantee to consumers, and provide opportunities for value-added agriculture (Josling 2006). In addition, very importantly, as commodities that are produced by local actors in specific (local) places but marketed globally, GIs are unique in their ability to straddle the local-global dichotomy. Yet, these types of protective schemes are largely unknown in the United States. In the United States, our agrarian and culinary histories are very different from those of the European countries where GIs have the longest histories and largest markets. One on hand, the flattening qualities of our globalized agrifood system that helped precipitate the ``buy-local'' movement may also provide the opportunity for a transnational network of locally-based foods. At the same time, because the United States context is so different, there may be a need for more fluidity in the relationships between food, drink and geography. In this project, I investigate the possibility of developing a place-based model for agricultural products in North Carolina. My main objectives are to catalogue the place-based objectives that have already implemented in North Carolina and to identify new possibilities for the protection and promotion of various types of North Carolina food and drink heritage.

APPROACH: Methods/Procedures by Objective 1. Catalogue and analyze the place-based initiatives that have already been implemented in North Carolina I will conduct content analysis of relevant internal documents describing the place-based initiatives implemented in the state (for example, the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area, established in 2003). I will also conduct phone interviews with supply chain actors, and, where feasible, site visits. My analysis will focus on identifying the key factors that have contributed to the success of these initiatives and the major constraints they face at the local, regional, and national level. I will consider cultural, political, social, and environmental factors in my analysis.

2. Identify new possibilities for the protection of North Carolina "food and drink heritage" I will conduct interviews with producers, agricultural extension agents, retailers, and consumers, in order to identify new possibilities for collective, heritage-based food labels. I will focus on marginal regions in North Carolina, particularly eastern North Carolina and the western mountain regional. A second phase will involve the development of two or three case studies of place-based products that are especially promising. I will adopt a participatory process, conducting focus groups and engaging in participatory mapping with producers, consumers, and retailers in two or three case study regions.

3. Theorize how the notions of "heritage" and "terroir" can be applied to a United States context The concept of terroir is often used to mediate the relationship between GI protection and local social, cultural, and ecological resources. The fundamental argument advanced by the notion of terroir, which is most commonly used to describe wine, is that "the special quality of an agricultural product is determined by the character of the place from which it comes" (Gade 2004). Furthermore, terroir incorporates the history and heritage of particular places, where specific forms of agricultural knowledge have been passed down from generation to generation. However, it is important to consider the difficulties of protecting and valorizing local production systems in places that do not have the long histories of production of France and Italy. In the United States and other places marked by substantial immigration, some of the most unique and valuable aspects of food culture are borne out of the melding of different cultures and their constant adaptation, over time, to each other. My research in North Carolina will give me insight into the ways that American producers and consumers frame their ties to place and history, and can aid me in the development of a more dynamic conceptualization of food culture that allows for innovation and at the same time protects local traditions.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
NC02279
Accession number
216787
Categories
Food Defense and Integrity
Parasites
Natural Toxins
Viruses and Prions
Bacterial Pathogens
Chemical Contaminants
Commodities
Dairy